Answers in Medicine Sometimes Lie in Luck

From The New York Times:

Luck-shamrock-horseshoeThe hospital I work at has no 13th floor. The absence can be a bit awkward to explain to people. I mean, here sits a building at the center of the modern evidence-based scientific empire. Yet as soon as we set foot in the elevator, it is clear that we have decided to hedge our bets a little, and play the dark side too. This odd coupling of bullet-train rationality and primal superstition actually is quite common in science. I once worked for an investigator, the most methodical, robotic person I ever have known, who insisted on pointing all of the lab’s workbenches toward the sun for good luck. I myself have been known to avoid checking test results on certain very ill patients until I can sit at a specific computer. (It’s a lucky workstation, honest.) The truth is that despite the endless evidence demonstrating its nonexistence, all doctors believe in luck. We fight it, devoted as we are to upholding the premise of a rational, scientific world that hews only to that which is statistically significant, that wondrous city on the hill where cause and effect are sealed in eternal conjugation. But we are saddled with a few pre-Enlightenment attitudes, too. Not that we care to admit it. Because not only does luck fall far outside the ordered rows of science, but where health is concerned, luck is far too arbitrary, too unfeeling, too senseless an explanation for any of us to accept. We all prefer to believe that we live in a crisp, predictable world where everything that happens has an evident cause.

Lung cancer? Cigarettes. Heart attack? Out of shape. Maintaining the fantasy of this-then-that gives us at least the satisfaction of appearing to control our destiny, when clearly we do not and cannot. Without this small delusion, we’re just floating along like other hapless animals, wishing and hoping that maybe something good will drift our way. The Lotto life.

More here.